1. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Cutting out backstory without confusing the reader

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Jul 3, 2017.

    I haven't come to on the forums to play lately, being tied up trying to get my novel's cover just right. So tonight I'm working on the cover again, and as I do, I have my text going in TTSReader. And whammo! it hits me that my third chapter, which is 98% backstory, is seriously slowing the real-time story down.

    OK. So let's suppose I excise that sucker and go straight to the events of Chapter 4.

    But there's a lot of stuff in Chapter 3 that the reader needs to know about the main characters. Events in future chapters assume the reader knows it. Yeah, yeah, I could work it in in bits and pieces later. But I've lived with this story so long it's likely I'll merrily review the rest of it as if the backstory events were still in and not recognize where I need to throw in little references to what I'll no longer be showing. Result: Reader confusion.

    So . . . Should I make a list of all the Important Stuff the backstory chapter does, so I won't forget to clue the reader in to those things at the appropriate time? Should I make the cut, give the ms to a fresh beta reader, find out where they get lost, and supply the bits of character history in those places? Or should I . . .

    Gah. Not sure I've explained this right. Switching from graphic designer brain back to writer brain is hard. Clarifications given on request.
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    That's my vote. Except ideally there'd be more than one beta reader.
     
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  3. Alex R. Encomienda

    Alex R. Encomienda Contributor Contributor

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    I've read stories where there is no backstory at all. When certain things occur, you can shortly explain the story needed to accompany it so the reader isn't confused and keep moving forward from there. Noting helps plenty too.
     
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  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think the list makes sense--cross off the items as you get them done, then ship the whole thing off to a fresh beta reader to be sure.
     
  5. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    My go-to advice is that the presentation of the backstory is more important than the amount of time that you spend on it. Just look at any murder mystery: from beginning to the end, the entire plot is about the protagonists trying to learn as much as possible about the backstory ;)

    What's happening in the narrative of chapter 3 to convey the backstory information to the reader?
     
  6. Siena

    Siena Senior Member

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    In Casablanca, Rick and Ilsa's backstory (Paris) is told just before halfway. There's no reason it has to come first.
     
  7. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Aaaargh. Given my luck with beta readers, that means I won't get the book published before Christmas. If then. (I hate setting people deadlines. I hate not being understanding about Life Happening to other people. Aaargh, again.)

    Maybe the idea is to get the viewer/reader invested in the relationship and save any major showing of how it came about for when the viewer/reader really cares? As you seem to have guessed, the backstory is primarily about how the main characters met and how they came to be working together in the same office. So, yeah. Point taken.
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Does the reader really NEED to know any specific part of that, or is just a sort of fog, where they get a general impression, enough? Can you just casually refer to college, and how annoyed Professor Whatsit would be to see her outlandish idea working out, and some dark references to the boyfriend, and so on? (I may be remembering a different story, but if you see what I mean?)
     
  9. JPClyde

    JPClyde Senior Member

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    Funny how I was just about to put a thread about how I tackle expositions and explaining things. We'll see if anyone likes my method or not. But I took an idea from video games and implemented it in novel form. The idea to me is since I write in first person, why are any of my people explaining what these things are. Case in point they wouldn't explain what these things are. So I wrote Codex Chapters or little Intermission chapters that do all the explanation like a textbooks. And only the information the reader needs. I am deciding to either put these between chapters or at the very back like an encyclopedia with page references to what entry you can read later.
     
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Funky like your grandpa's drawers.... Staff Contributor

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    If their relationship is genuine and believable the reader won't need much in the way of backstory. I can't remember the last time I read a book and needed to know how two characters met it order to enjoy their present circumstances. Maybe a paragraph or two, but a whole chapter? We shouldn't need that to be interested.
     

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